The following guest sermon was submitted by ULC minister Daniel Oyama. All ULC members are invited to contribute their own sermons for consideration/publication. To submit a sermon, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Bloody Business
In the moments before Kelly Gissendaner was executed in Georgia back in 2015, the convicted murderer sang “Amazing Grace” as she awaited her early demise. At the final hour, a plea came in from Pope Francis to the state’s Christian governor asking to spare her life. It fell on deaf ears.
The deeply religious state of Arkansas made national headlines last year after it put four inmates to death in the span of eight days – although that proved to be fewer than the eight executions that ambitious state officials had wanted to carry out following the Easter holiday. The great state of Texas – the proverbial buckle of the Bible belt – has executed 555 people since 1982, including just over half of the 19 executions that have taken place in 2018.
But here’s a curious thought: these same Christian politicians and legislators who adamantly support capital punishment keep winning election after election virtue-signalling about their so-called “pro-life” views. How does that work? How can someone retain any shred of moral consistency when they condemn abortion in one breath, then turn around and cheer the death penalty in the next? How have so many Christians come to rationalize capital punishment as compatible with a religious message that says all lives have inherent value?
By continuing to support the death penalty, these folks allow their own country to reside in the uncomfortable company of authoritarian states like China, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia – all of whom readily executed their own citizens. Missing from that list? Nearly every other developed Western country.
Do All Lives Matter?
Perhaps it is easier to defend the innocent. And there is nothing as innocent as an unborn child. Defending murderers, sociopaths and serial rapists is a tougher spiritual sell.
And yet it’s one all Christian leaders must make. For all the Catholic Church’s own faults, Pope Francis has become a moral beacon for Christians worldwide by calling for an end to the death penalty – just as Mother Teresa and Sister Helen Prejean did before him.
True pro-life Christians of all stripes need to take a good hard look in the mirror and figure out why it’s so difficult from them to forgive death row inmates who, in a decent majority of cases, have confessed to their crimes, reformed and spent years healing the wounds they have caused. Many have done so by bringing the Lord into their lives.
Have We No Compassion?
It’s easier to keep a safe distance. Bars, cells, prisons…all have a way of dehumanizing the individuals behind and inside them. Maybe Christians should do what Jesus would do were he still around and actually visit these sinners. Hear them out. Pray with them.
This is what being pro-life should really be all about; allowing the weakest amongst us to be given a good reason to believe in their own.
In the same New Testament so many of our nation’s devout hold sacred, Jesus leads by lofty example. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” he preached, right up until the final moments of his own unjust execution.
Mercy, sadly, seems to be a precious commodity in the Bible belt right now, where too many of the same fervent defenders of life continue to sanction the death penalty as a “necessary and just” punishment that shouldn’t be theirs to dish out.